Using context to understand unfamiliar words
If you are learning English as a second language, meeting unfamiliar words is a regular experience, especially if you try to read a daily newspaper like the Bangkok Post.
With proper reading skills, this is not a problem, but an excellent opportunity to rapidly increase your vocabulary. The most important skill for this purpose is your ability to use context the words and sentences which surround an unfamiliar word.
The Bangkok Post is an ideal resource for developing this essential skill. Our newspaper is designed to be understood easily. Stories are written for a general audience, not for experts, so technical words are often explained. News writers use a style that gives you several chances to understand key concepts. And feature stories are often accompanied by several photographs which allow you to see exactly what unfamiliar words mean.
There are a number of different techniques for guessing an unfamiliar word's meaning from context and we have illustrated some of the most useful of them in the exercise below.
Test your context skills
Here is an exercise to help you develop your ability to understand unfamiliar words from context. Each problem illustrates a different method for doing so. The short passages below all contain one highlighted word. Hopefully, this word will be unfamiliar to you, but you can still do the exercise even if you know the word.
- Read each passage and try to guess the meaning of the highlighted word.
- Explain what part of the context surrounding the word allowed you to make your guess.
- Click on (or hit return on) the word to find our explanation. We suggest you do this even if you are confident you know the answers.
Here are some good sample lessons using these techniques:
The crowd gathered at the city gates and at ten o’ clock it began to move. Reaching the church a half hour later, the throng stopped and waited patiently for the priests.
Before the meeting the President appeared calm, yet we all knew he was extremely agitated.
They marvelled at our dishwasher and dish-dryer. They fell in love with the automatic coffee maker, the microwave oven, and the food blender. They wanted to take our rice cooker and toaster home with them. They had never seen such appliances before.
The Federal Aviation Administration concluded yesterday that the DC-10 pylon, the structure that attaches the engine to the wings, is fundamentally sound and does not need any major design changes.
The enemy soldiers were able to cow the villagers by threatening to shoot anyone who refused to give them food.
By the time the boy reached the hospital, he was suffering from hypothermia.